Robert Indiana’s Hartley Elegies (1989–94) is a series of 18 paintings inspired by Marsden Hartley’s War Motif series, which Hartley executed as a tribute to the young German soldier Karl von Freyburg, who died during World War I and with whom Hartley had a deep friendship. Indiana employed Hartley’s stylized visual language throughout the Elegies, while reinvesting them with additional content and meaning.
KvF VII is closely related to KvF I, a work based on Hartley’s Portrait of a German Officer (1914), which Indiana had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like KvF I, KvF VII incorporates the motifs of German World War I pageantry and references to von Freyburg found in Hartley’s painting. These include the Iron Cross that von Freyburg was awarded just before his death, the E, likely a reference to Queen Elisabeth of Greece, the patroness of the third regiment of the grand-grenadiers, in which Hartley’s close friend and von Freyburg’s cousin Arnold Rönnebeck served, and the numeral 4, the number of his regiment. The text in the ring surrounding these motifs is also the same; Karl von Freyburg’s name is spelled out in the top half, and the date October 7 appears between the years 1914 and 1989 in the bottom half. October 7, 1914, was the date of von Freyburg’s death and October 7, 1989, the date, exactly seventy-five years later, that Indiana began working on the Elegies. By including the latter date Indiana inserts himself into the series and links himself to Hartley and von Freyburg, asserting his kinship with the men.